The 2015 Rugby Japan Cup in LA

Towards the beginning of November, myself and the rest Japanese Rugby Football Club of Chicago (JRFCC) descended upon LA to vie for the Japan Cup. Our opponents were the other Japanese clubs from Seattle, NYC, Houston, and of course this year’s host, LA.  The teams play through the spring, summer, and fall but this is the one to get excited about. Everyone arrived throughout Friday, though I chose a flight that would let me work the full day and get there later. I finally showed up to the hotel around midnight and joined the rest of the team for some Tecates. in our captain’s room. Most of us live in Chicago currently, but as work assignments generally last only a few years, we had several players in from all over: Japan, Malaysia, Alabama, Michigan, and of course Chicago. It was great to hang out in that little room and chat [in Japanese] until eventually sleep won out.IMG_0061That next morning, myself and the other two foreigners interned to a room on the basis of our heritage rushed to make good on the free breakfast. We were a bit disappointed by the spread of dry cereal, and white oleo-less bread. Defeated, I settled for a plain croissant and joined the rest of the group in the lobby to carpool. With the blue sky and palm trees, it felt far from Chicago.IMG_0066We warmed up with some drills and cardio, and ran through a few of our set plays.  As the other teams filtered in, it was clear that our 16 member squad was indeed the smallest.  A full team is comprised of 15, but because the matches were only 20 minutes long our hope was that despite their depth we’d hold our own.  The games opened with us lined up by team where the format was explained. We would be playing four 20 minute matches in a round robin style, with the top two teams going once more for the trophy.Our first game was a tie, through we were only a few paces from scoring the winning try.
IMG_3852 Despite the outcome, it was really a deflating match as two of our players were hospitalized – one with some fractured ribs and another with a broken collar bone. No one wants to see injuries period, but this was even harder as it put us down below a full roster. Things worsened when another left due to an intense black eye in one of the later matches. We were able to get a guest player or two, but we were always down. This was part of the reason for our 0-3-1 record, as well as a few missed opportunities. It being only my second time playing as an openside flanker made knowing how to properly contribute a challenge. It is however a hectic position that suits my physique, and is certainly something that I hope to build on for next season. I took more than a few cleats in the ruck.
IMG_0065I’ve thus far avoided any injury during my rugby career, though every game has hits that leave me slow to get up. As of the time of writing, I’ve still got aches, scrapes, and bruises galore. Stupid as this likely seems to the uninitiated, a fear of injury doesn’t even register in the mind of a rugby player. Smashing past defenders, and hauling a meaty runner down to the pitch is immensely satisfying and worth being in on. My tactic for this is generally to just grab on and lift my legs – running seems to become harder once 210 pounds of Dutchman affixes itself asymmetrically to another’s torso…
12212030_922135274502459_956835105_nThe championship game was truncated a few minutes thanks to a head/neck injury. I’m not sure how serious it wound up being, but chances are never taken here.  It took a while before the ambulance came and carted them away. In the end NYC was the 2015 champion, and despite the injuries we all had a swell time. Next year’s tourney will be held in Seattle, which is already something I’m excited for. My hope is that by then I’ll be well versed in the game and able to make some significant contributions.
IMG_0073A few of us spent some hours at the hospital while waiting for those injured teammates to be assessed. I do want to go on the record as saying America’s emergency rooms are a joke – 6 hours of waiting with a broken collar bone is unacceptable.  I can’t imagine any other developed nation doing a worse job of defining ’emergency’.  But I digress…  The rest of that evening would involve plenty of food and entertainment; many were no less excited about the celebration than the tournament itself.
IMG_0075We would be dining at the Sea Empress – a Chinese restaurant, interestingly – and we really packed out the banquet room. As a part of the hospital crew I showed up a little late, but still able to jump right into the feast. The event was actually sponsored by Sapporo Beer, so people were dressed in costumes, and there enormous bins of the chilled beverage. The sting of defeat dissipated as we embraced this particularly cultural evening. Throughout dinner, we had an emcee of sorts who brought different players up on stage to acknowledge their MVP status, or to preside over a variety of contests. At one point there was a little musical number that featured the most insane karaoke performance ever – we all had eyes wide open and jaws agape; the cameras came out too The room was in stitches, and I really had to sift through the photos to find one that I felt comfortable sharing.
IMG_0101From the restaurant, those feeling it moved to the nearby Budda Bar.  I was able to meet up with an old high school friend of mine and his girlfriend. Ian had moved out to California about the same time made for Japan, so the last five years have had few opportunities to catch up. Their willingness to make the hike up from San Diego for the weekend was certainly appreciated. We celebrated the momentous occasion with a little karaoke of our own, and then Ubered 30 minutes to where they were staying to grab some late night food and go to bed. After walking into some taco joint, we changed our minds in favor of a diner next door. Walking in, I saw a few Japanese folks, and simply said “rugby?” while walking past. Of course they weren’t since it was 3am and this was the other side of LA, but later during our meal one of them came over – I was flabbergasted to find that it was my girlfriend’s brother!  I had never even met the guy before.  My Chicago rugby shirt allayed his doubts, but as soon as he came over I realized it right away too.  For as unlike as such a meeting was, I snapped a photo to send May.
IMG_0103We eased into the next day, and then set out towards Hollywood. My visit to LA many years earlier didn’t include any of this tourism. It was interesting seeing exits for Sunset Blvd, and all sorts of other names I’d heard referenced in pop culture. After parking up, the three of us grabbed grub from an international food fair and walked around. Not sure what I expected of Hollywood exactly, but to me it just gave off the impression of any other urban center. We did a few blocks worth of the walk of fame, though there were very few recognizable names. I guess that people die, and then their legacy is quickly forgotten by the next generation. We did manage to spot Humphrey Bogart, Michael Jackson, and Johnny Cash’s. We popped into Amoeba too, one of the last big record stores around.
IMG_0115 One of my touristy bucket list items was to get a good shot of the famed sign. We drove around until figuring out that Griffith Observatory (Named after Griffith J. Griffith) offered spectacular views. We poked around the astrology museum, strolled about, and then made our way back down to the city. The next stop was to the Fairfax Senior High School to walk though a ‘Flea’ market.  This was a bit of a pilgrimage stop for me, as both the singer and bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers had gone to school there. Ian and I were able to get our one shot together.
IMG_0130From the observatory you could look out over the whole of Los Angeles.
IMG_0148The last LA stop we were going to make before they turned south toward home was an In-N-Out.  I had never been, and for as much as people rave about the place I felt like it needed to happen. I got myself a double double – animal style – which was honestly good for fast food, but any real burger blows it away. Frankly, I don’t know why more people aren’t relishing Weinerschnitzel as a superior option. From there they dropped me at a theater to kill some time before my midnight flight. I watched Spectre, and hopped an Uber to the airport. I arrived back to Chicago at 6am, with just enough time to head home, nap, and report to work. All in all, I had a well rounded, fulfilling, and fantastic weekend, and I’m excited for the tourney next year.

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